Making traditional black bean soup used to be an all-day affair. Generating full flavor required hours of simmering soaked beans with numerous ingredients, including parsnips, carrots, beef bones, and smoked ham hocks. But quicker versions developed for modern kitchens often produce watery, bland, and unattractive soups.
We wanted a simplified procedure that would result in an attractive, dark-colored soup full of sweet, spicy, smoky flavors and brightened with fresh garnishes.
While testing showed that we would have to use dried beans--unlike canned beans, they release valuable flavor into the broth as they cook--we saved time when we discovered that neither soaking them overnight nor using the "quick soak method" was required to make them tender. We also found that we didn't need from-scratch beef stock but could maximize flavor by using a mixture of water and canned chicken broth doctored with ham and aggressive seasonings. A bit of baking soda solved the problem of washed-out color. Finally, we optimized the whole flavor package with colorful garnishes: sour cream, diced avocado, red onion, minced cilantro, and lime wedges.